Thoughts on “Boyhood”

Boyhood is wonderfully happy. IFC Films called this a “nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting.” I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the film we watch a young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), grow up from seven years of age until moving into college at eighteen. And this film is literally showing him grow up; it took twelve years to shoot (and crazy enough only forty-five total days of shooting from 2002 until 2013). I don’t know how director Richard Linklater (previous works including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Fast Food Nation) and friends were able to pull this off, but bravo to the highest degree.

The film reveals plenty of the ideal working class, single mother lifestyle and struggles through the eyes of the brilliant Patricia Arquette. The poise and demeanor of this mother is inspiring to all in similar situations. She is a single mother who had to balance school, work, and kids (not to mention the drunken abusive asshole husbands). She is able to pull through and motivate anybody she came into contact with, especially the laborer who worked on her septic lines. He cleaned up his accent, attended school, and got a job as a manager indoors because of her motivating words.

The dad, played by Ethan Hawke, is the typical young bachelor––equipped with his own GTO. Throughout the film he has a go-lucky attitude that really helps facilitate situations with the kids who have to live in an abusive, struggling household. The contrast between the hard working mother and easy rider father gives their kids an equilibrium that is able to keep their lives relatively stable.

The daughter, played by the director’s real life daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is the perfect annoying sister. Right away she gives Mason issues and headaches that are otherwise avoidable if she wasn’t there. As they grow older the figure turns into a more calm, loving and down to earth individual that we don’t see much of unless around Mason. She comes up here and there, but never really has the same effect on Mason as when they were kids. She is the one family member of the four who doesn’t really have the typical character arc because it isn’t needed. The film is about Mason and how he goes through boyhood, no need to add melodramas about his older sister. This realistic portrayal of siblings at a young age through teen-hood really helps the realism of the story.

Ellar Coltrane was given the lottery of a lifetime by getting this role. He has the camera on him for twelve years of his boyhood. Each year or so we get a sneak peak back into his life as if the audience is a distant relative that only sees him during family gatherings (coincidentally during tragic events). We get to see all the early hardships he had to deal with at a very early age and quickly see him age before our eyes and the only way to really distinguish between the yearly transitions are his haircuts. We find out that Mason is the more quiet spoken, gloomy kid of the class who is more into the artistic and creative side of life. He photographs for the school and finds a particular interest in the art. He sees life differently from the other kids his age, which his teacher tells him while in the dark room.

He has conversations about how people nowadays are robots that can’t live without checking Facebook or text messages. And he’s right. He grew up in a time when technology was growing to rule the households. He tries talking about this with his ex girlfriend, Sheena, but she doesn’t seem to pay much attention or show interest. Among the theme of human growth is the idea of technological growth and innovation that dominates everyone nowadays. I dare you to go out in public and try and find a person not listening to music on their phone, texting, or checking Facebook. Mason sees this and finds an issue with it; humans are becoming just as robotic/functioned/conditioned as the devices they are using.

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The movie is somewhat a blend of Neorealism and drama. Many scenes in the story could have taken a melodramatic route, but didn’t because its realistic. The film does use a couple well known actors (which isn’t part of the true Neorealistic facet), but who else would agree on to a twelve year film shoot? The film was shot with a budget of only $2.4 million. This may seem like a lot to some people, but this budget was spread out through twelve years (roughly half a million a year). Films in 2014 cost about ten to one hundred times as much money as this one, so this film is as low a budget as it comes. The best aspect about the film is the episodic realism. Each scene by itself doesn’t mean that much without being placed in the film as a whole. In a way, none of the scenes really push the story along like a typical narrative, but instead periodically show the growth of an individual. That’s what Linklater wants to show us. He wants the audience to understand what its like growing up in a situation like Mason’s in a very true manner.

It’s not until the finale of the movie where we get the gut wrenching realizations of growing up. Not to say the scenes with the abusive husband wasn’t gut wrenching, but it was early on before watching the kids or story grow up.

The last scene with Mason and his father isn’t as dramatic as the one with his mother, but it still answers a few questions and sets the stage for the final themes of the movie. They get to talking about Mason’s recent breakup with Sheena and how it should not bother him; no reason to cry over spilled milk. Mason, being the teenager that he is, thinks there is something more to the relationship than there was, but fact is they broke up because they weren’t on the same vibe (which is what his father says). Mason then asks what the point of all this is, meaning what’s the point of life. His dad laughs and claims he and nobody else knows, life just happens and we’re along for the ride. And that’s what happened with him; his father now has a loving wife and toddler after years of being single. That’s what Mason should learn from him. Life just kinda works itself out and there’s no reason to fret over the smaller issues.

The last scene that includes the mother is with Mason packing up and about to move to college. In this scene Mason playfully says he wants to get rid of the very first picture he shot that his mother framed and kept for him. This tore her apart. The struggles and hardships this mother had to go through was tough, but losing her only son is by far the worst. After breaking down in front of Mason, she explains that life wasn’t as fulfilling as she thought it would be. This soliloquy says it all, “First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?” Having to realize life after sending the kids off to college scares the shit out of people because they make this illogical jump in their minds. Her last and most powerful line of the film is, “I just thought there would be more.” I think we all think that life is a huge adventure when we are kids because that’s what our imagination tells us. It isn’t until later that we find out that life is just about the hardest and shortest thing to progress through.

The final scene is a nice way to wrap up the film. Mason is out hiking at Big Bend with his roommate, roommate’s girlfriend, and her roommate Nicole (Jessi Mechler). Just a side note, much earlier in the film when Mason got the haircut and was forced to go to class, he got a note from a girl saying his hair was “kewl.” That girl’s name was Nicole, might or might not be the same Nicole as this one (but I definitely think it is). So Mason and Nicole are sitting down on a magnificent rock formation in a slightly secluded spot away from the other couple. Another reference to the beginning is that early in the story, Mason was really into collecting rocks and had a small gathering of his own. It’s only fitting that the film ends with Mason sitting on this enormous rock formation, as if the years that have gone by have grown the rocks to this size.

He and Nicole get to talking about seizing the moment, which Nicole objects to. She explains that we don’t seize the moment, the moment seizes us. “Right now is always happening.” And that’s what the whole movie is about. It shows phases of Mason’s life in which the moments seize him. That’s why he feels such an affinity towards photography; photographs capture and seize what is happening right now, at the exact moment. Nicole feels a “creative freedom” about dancing that Mason understands through his photography. Nicole gets him in this metaphysical way and he feels a mutual vibe with her, as opposed to Sheena. Also its only fitting that Nicole is a dance teacher, and Mason’s mother is also a teacher. They don’t kiss in the end for a very specific reason, because we would expect it. Typical dramas and dramedies usually have the main character and the love interest kiss in the end (and sometimes much more). But this film was set out to show the true nature of moments like this. Linklater pulls this off perfectly and I couldn’t help but admire it as the screen cut to credits.

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